First Congregational Church
November 1, 2013
All Saints Sunday
Habakkuk 1:1-5, 2:1, 2:4, 2:20, 3:17-19
"Living By Faith"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Litchfield, Minnesota is a rural farming and dairy community of 5,000 in the middle of the state, nearly straight west of here. The comparison strength of the women - between here and there - may be debatable, but the men here are definitely better looking, and with the except of my three great-nephews, the children here are higher above average than in Minnesota.
The local rag there is called the Independent Review, and this week's headlines included the Opera House holding an open mic night, the Litchfield Area Mentorship Program will hold a turkey bingo fundraiser, and, of course, the Police Report, which practicaly lists every single 911 call, every police pull-over, and every dumb thing for which one can get caught. Oh and there was a fire destroyed a combine owned by a man from Watkins man last month.
As I got to thinking about the Lectionary passage from Habakkuk this week, it dawned on me that the entire book, which is all of three chapters, is a sort of local, hometown newspaper, in the form of a dialogue between God and Habakkuk. The nice little "flip" at the end of Habakkuk is that instead of an editorial, the writer wraps it up with a prayer.
Habakkuk 1:1-5, 2:1, 2:4, 2:20, 3:17-19 (NIV)
1 The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.
2 How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? 3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. 4 Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.
The Lord’s Answer
5 “Look at the nations and watch— and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.
Habakkuk's (Second) Complaint/Answer
2 1 I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.
The Lord’s Answer
2:4 “See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness--
2:20 The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.
3:17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. 19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.
Thank you, Mary Jane. The verses that were just read were not exactly those from the prescribed list of Bible passages called the Lectionary, although some of the verses read today are from the list. The longer I thought about the verses, and this particular day, the more it seemed that perhaps they would be good in reminding all of us that there is hope in this circle we call life. We get a glimpse of that truth and hope in these few verses.
These verses have been attributed to a little-known minor prophet, although there is speculation that his name means to "embrace" or "wrestle." Perhaps someone surmised that correlation because of the way Habakkuk verbally "wrestles" with God and the events of his day - that could just as well have been ripped out of the headlines from newspapers around the globe this morning. There's a beauty in the back-and-forth conversation between Habakkuk and God, one of honesty and sincerity, even if the conversation wasn't all that soft and fuzzy. It may be that there is someone today that needs the reminder that we can be honest with God, no matter what we may feel or think.
As I thought about these verses and our modern lives, the idea of "waiting" came to mind. Those who are celebrating the birth of a child, there was waiting involved - about nine months - give or take a few. For those here honoring one that has gone on to eternal life, perhaps there was or is "waiting" for you, for the person's physical body to wind down, for the cause of death, for the next step through that valley of grief, for the day of eternal reunion.
Hab, as I'm sure all his friends called him, had waiting to do, too. He sure wanted the world to "be right" just as much as any of us. Hab's desire is perhaps something like ours - the world "fixed" according to the way I (we) think it should be "fixed." If there are just over 7 billion people on the earth, if we really got to the core of reality and truth, there are probably just over 7 billion versions of what that "fixed" world might look like. Maybe that is part of the reason that God tells Habakkuk - and us - that this life is not about "being right" - as in righteous - but about faith.
The prophets foretold the idea that God's plan would be revealed, and we have seen part of that plan realized in the life and resurrection of Christ. Habakkuk didn't have any clue about Jesus, but he chose to believe that God would be his strength, that Hab would rejoice and be joyful in God, because it would be God that would bring about a new way of understanding life - that we call as Christianity.
It's maybe an odd link, but I thought about marriage and the idea of choosing to believe "something" to be even when we don't feel like it. Sometimes when I do weddings, I mention that being married is choosing to love a person, even if the "offended" spouse doesn't feel loved or loving. (Actually, that's true of single people, too.) Or maybe it's like choosing to love a child even when they have destroyed the brand new (insert the name of the current sacred household cow) or said something hurtful. We chose to believe that God leads us and cares about us, even if it seems not to be the case.
What weaves through these verses is an image or vision of faith, even when the present view is dim. The man who wrote the words to our second hymn this morning was named Horatio Spafford. His 4 year old son died of scarlet fever, most of his holdings were lost in the Great Chicago fire of 1871, and when he sent his his wife and four daughters ahead to England for a little family vacation time, the ship Spafford's family was on hit another boat and sank within twelve minutes. The four Spafford daughters drowned and Mrs. S was rescued. When she reached Wales, she was finally able to cable her husband, "Saved alone. What shall I do?"
She waited, while Horatio hopped on the first thing that could sail. When the captain of the ship determined that they were in the same spot as when the first ship sank, Mr. Spafford retired to his room and wrote the words that have carried so many hurt and wounded hearts through this world - in deciding to choose faith. The story of the Spaffords, that hymn, the book of Habakkuk, are all testaments of living by faith.
When we live by faith, we become the people God has seen us to be: sometimes broken, sometimes hurt, sometimes jubilant, sometimes grateful. When we so live - by faith - we may not always like how the circle of life rolls, but we can look forward to when the circle becomes a communion with the countless souls that have gone before us and those that will come after us, in the light of Christ's eternal love. We do that now - in a small degree. But one day, one day, it shall be glory and rest and life in a way that we can only begin to imagine. Until then, we have prayer, which is also a good idea.
Gracious God of life and love, we are grateful for those you have given us - even for those who have gone before us into your presence. Remind us that even if we might not see the fulfilled promises that God made back then, you have already fulfilled your greatest promise in sending Jesus and raising him from the dead to eternal life. Remind us to watch for the things you do in our days that we would not believe if you had told us ahead of time. Help us, when it seems right, to remind us that we are spiritual beings having an earthly experience, and that we will one day return home. Until that day, Great God, help us to live - to really live in our choices and in our hearts desires. For all the blessings that you pour on us, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.